Inevitable future: Space colonization beyond Earth with microbes first

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Abstract

Based on modern microbiology, we propose a major revision in current space exploration philosophy and planetary protection policy, especially regarding microorganisms in space. Mainly, microbial introduction should not be considered accidental but inevitable. We hypothesize the near impossibility of exploring new planets without carrying and/or delivering any microbial travelers. In addition, although we highlight the importance of controlling and tracking such contaminations - to explore the existence of extraterrestrial microorganisms - we also believe that we must discuss the role of microbes as primary colonists and assets, rather than serendipitous accidents, for future plans of extraterrestrial colonization. This paradigm shift stems partly from the overwhelming evidence of microorganisms' diverse roles in sustaining life on Earth, such as symbioses and ecosystem services (decomposition, atmosphere effects, nitrogen fixation, etc.). Therefore, we propose a framework for new discussion based on the scientific implications of future colonization and terraforming: (i) focus on methods to track and avoid accidental delivery of Earth's harmful microorganisms and genes to extraterrestrial areas; (ii) begin a rigorous program to develop and explore 'Proactive Inoculation Protocols'. We outline a rationale and solicit feedback to drive a public and private research agenda that optimizes diverse organisms for potential space colonization.
Original languageEnglish (US)
JournalFEMS Microbiology Ecology
Volume95
Issue number10
DOIs
StatePublished - Sep 2 2019
Externally publishedYes

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